Intelligence agencies, with the help of the current regime, market Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to Congress as a means to keep Americans safe from foreign threats. Instead, as members of the Senate Judiciary Committee demonstrated on Tuesday, it’s become a proven loophole that lets verifiably corrupt bureaucrats spy on Americans.
Nearly two decades after its inception, Section 702 has easily become the security apparatus’ favorite excuse to conduct backdoor, warrantless surveillance on American citizens. The FBI’s infamous and illegal targeting of 2016 Trump campaign adviser Carter Page is one of the most prominent examples of this trend.
If the Biden administration, the officials in the corrupt agencies that benefit from the statute, and establishment legislators have anything to say about it, the bureaucrats at the center of the weaponization fight could get permission to keep spying on Americans without retribution.
If anything was made abundantly clear during the course of the hours-long hearing, the last thing bureaucrats responsible for decades of power abuses want to see is the policy that harbors those abuses to die. The high-level FBI, CIA, DOJ, DNI, and NSA witnesses spent most of their testimonies begging Congress to keep Section 702 intact.
Without Section 702, specifically, NSA Deputy Director George Barnes claimed, “our ability to preserve the nation’s security would be significantly impaired.”
“Last year, nearly every item in the presidential intelligence priorities list was addressed in some way, shape, or form by 702. It’s not replaceable. NSA could not replicate intelligence from 702 using other authorities,” Barnes asserted. “It’s agile, specific, and efficient.”
Rumblings amongst the establishment wings of the Republican party similarly suggest that some legislators may seek a straight reauthorization of FISA in its current iteration. Among those publicly against assertions that the only way to fix Section 702 is by eliminating it are some of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s closest allies.
Sen. Lindsey Graham opened his line of questioning by trying to sell Americans, who hold a deep distrust of the DOJ and FBI following its partisan actions in recent years, on the idea that foreign adversaries like ISIS, China, and Russia will be unchecked if Congress meddles with Section 702.
“I guess what I’m trying to tell my constituents back home [is] the threats to the country are growing; they’re not lessening,” the South Carolina Republican said.
Sens. John Cornyn and Thom Tillis echoed Graham and the witnesses’ claims that Section 702 is “essential to our national security” and questioned witnesses on whether they would be open to changes designed to address the abuses tainting the Section’s chances of automatic renewal.
Democrats like Durbin and Sen. Mazie Hirono agreed that Section 702 at least needs to be remarkably reformed before getting Congress’ approval.
“I will only support the reauthorization of section 702 if there are significant, significant reforms,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin said.
During the hearing, Deputy Director FBI Paul Abbate claimed his agency already began rolling out reforms such as a “three-strike rule” that will carry “rapidly escalating consequences” for those agents who supposedly initiate queries, a process that gives officials warrantless access to data collected under FISA, “unintentionally.”
Some of the intelligence bureaucrats claimed to be open to even more reforms, but that’s contradicted by several of their actions. Months before the hearing, witness Assistant Attorney General Matt Olsen of the DOJ’s National Security Division lobbied for the rubber stamping of Section 702 without any changes.
“What keeps me up at night is thinking about what will happen if we fail to renew Section 702 of FISA,” he said at a Brookings Institution event in February. “This law will expire on December 31st of this year if Congress doesn’t act to reauthorize it. If 702 expires or is watered down, the United States will lose critical insights we need to protect the country.”
Congress Cannot Keep Enabling Corruption
Even if Olsen’s mind opened up to the possibility of reforms, no self-respecting congressman should approve modifications that they know, when attached to Section 702 in previous years, never took root.
Congress attempted to introduce FISA reforms dedicated to advancing “the protection of individual privacy and civil liberties” in 2015. A recently declassified Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinion from 2022 confirmed that those were practically worthless because the FBI was still able to use Section 702 to justify what the FISC called a “pattern of conducting broad, suspicionless queries.”
Suddenly, the “agility” and “efficiency” intelligence officials like Barnes brag about really means that the government initiated hundreds of thousands of breaches of Americans’ private information, data, and messages without consent or consequence. Based on that number, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin estimated that “billions” more “communications are collected and stored on government databases” each year under the same rationale.
As Republican Sen. Mike Lee pointed out on Twitter during the hearing, “That’s unconstitutional!”
“Now let me be very clear, that number should not just be going down; that number should be zero,” Lee said during the hearing. “Every ‘non-compliance’ search involving U.S. persons violates an American citizen’s constitutional right, and yet every year, the FBI claims that we should just trust the FBI to fix the problems internally. Well, first, they tell us there are no problems, then they tell us, ‘We will fix them because we’ve got good people and we’ve got new policies.’”
“Reforms” have been tried and ultimately failed, which is why some Republicans are harnessing FISA as one of the many ways they could rein in the wayward security state.
The GOP’s Weaponization Fight Isn’t Separate From Biden Bribery
Justice for the abusive FBI, CIA, NSA, DNI, and DOJ in the form of FISA has been delayed before, but it can’t be delayed any longer.
“The FBI has, right now, an unlimited hubris that you believe you are unaccountable,” Sen. Ted Cruz said during the hearing. “You don’t believe you’re accountable to the United States Congress, and you don’t believe you’re accountable to the American people, and you are doing damage.”
Over and over and over, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee questioned why the FBI covered up the FD-1023 form that details a “highly credible” confidential human source’s allegations that Vice President Joe Biden arranged to receive $5 million from a foreign national in exchange for pushing certain policy positions. One day prior to the Senate Judiciary Hearing, Sen. Chuck Grassley revealed that a Burisma executive is in possession of 17 audio recordings about the Biden family, two of which were between him and President Biden.
“Will you commit to releasing this unclassified document that alleges that the President of the United States, the President of the United States, has taken $5 million or more in bribes from a foreign nation?” Hawley asked.
“Will you release the document to the public?” Hawley continued. “It’s unclassified. Don’t you think the American people have a right to see it?”
Over and over and over again, Abbate failed to answer questions about the FBI’s ongoing cover-up campaign directly. Instead, he focused his efforts on claiming to“reject your assertion that the FBI is politicized.”
It was only after multiple Republicans harped on the FBI mouthpiece that he claimed, “I have no idea if there are recordings or not.”
“There are not two standards of justice. There is only one. It’s applied equally to each and every person,” Abbate insisted.
“You’re back in front of us asking for the reauthorization of extraordinary authorities. Multiple courts have uncovered extraordinary abuses perpetrated by your agency. You are at the same time concealing information about serious allegations made against the president of the United States, even as your institution also targets his chief political opponent in an unprecedented way. Why would we ever give you the blank check that you want to continue surveilling American citizens in an improper manner? Why would we ever do that?” Hawley questioned.
It’s a great question. One that, hopefully, the sworn representatives of Americans who don’t trust the intelligence complex nor the justice system in the U.S. right now will consider before they cast their FISA votes.